Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll Filmmaker Jon Mortisugu talks about his films


Jon Mortisugu filmmaker, Mod Fuck Explosion, Fame Whore, Pig Death Machine, Mortisugu low on high, Mortisugu amy davis

Every now and again you stumble across something that's life changing.   A song or album by a band, a movie even. Something that had previously flown under your radar.  And it's something that's potentially life-changing. It's something that alters your perception and has the ability to change the way you think about art. Jon Moritsugu's Mommy Mommy, Where's My Brain is high visual art.  You'd have to compare it to those old 60's Andy Warhol Velvet Underground films that were projected on the band.   It's unlike anything you may have seen before.  Great art should make you wanna smash things--keeping you up all night for days on end not allowing you the ability to escape it.  Great art should make you wanna go grab your girlfriend or boyfriend and fuck them out in the middle of the crowded city street.   Moritsugu is great art.

The MTV generation has been ripping-off Moritsugu's visual aesthetic now for the better part of a two decades.  The title sequences of his films alone mark a visual precedent.  Since Mommy Mommy, Where's My Brain, Jon Moritsugu has gone on to make several low budget lo-fi highly visual indie features.  Films like Scumrock (2002), Terminal USA (1993) and Mod Fuck Explosion (1994) have all gone stealth on the public's radar since their release to a certain point. They're championed in the cult scene and highly praised in art house and film geek circles as well. Moritsugu should be a household name.



TV STORE ONLINE: Jon, what films have influenced you in your life, and why?

JON MORITSUGU:  One of the biggest cinematic mind-fucks for me was Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky (1983) . The movie defied all my expectations and made new wave look more scuzzy than punk rock. Ha! Awesome pulsating soundtrack and proof that you don't need buckets of cash to create a totally engaging and original film. Coming down from Liquid Sky was when I was refining the concept for Mod Fuck Explosion. Yeah, this film totally  inspired me.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did your first film Mommy Mommy, Where's My Brain come about?

JON MORITSUGU:  That was a short I did in the Ivy League while bangin' my head to critical theory and semiotics... so it's a Marxist critique of post-commodity representation... or... shock cuts/rotting  meat/feedback/death rock/barnyardin'/car wrecking (in an ironic way)...it's sorta like hanging out with Derrida and then sticking your head in a toilet to escape the noise. This movie is from 1986 and was shot on 16mm b/w reversal stock in Providence, RI. It's still one of my all time favorites.

TV STORE ONLINE:    Do you see yourself as being a part of the New York City Cinema Of Transgression movement of the early/mid '80s?

JON MORITSUGU:  I've definitely been lumped in with this pack, but I don't really identify too closely with it either. I dunno, I've always felt my films were maybe a little too weird/offbeat and not adhering with the underground cool code. I've always tried not to be part of a movement but be a movement.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Looking back at Trangression, what's your take on the whole thing?

JON  MORITSUGU:  I dunno, as with anything else, good mixed with the bad, etc. I do wish the movement had evolved a little more... you know, more feature movies?! more T.V. series?  I do LOVE the manifestos and the attitude plus lot of  cool music videos.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You've always have the most amazing music usage in your films, how important is music in your life, and how has it influenced you.  And  lastly, how do you explain the natural compatibility of music and film?

JON MORITSUGU:  I just love music! Call me the music-man!  Seriously though, music has been a HUGE influence on my filmmaking.  When I was starting out, I was totally inspired by the early 80's  hardcore plus indie music scene. this definitely informed my early film endeavors. Not only did I wanna use bands on the soundtrack who could also be billed as "co-stars" in the movie, but I wanted the movies themselves to capture the raw immediacy, LOUDNESS, and POWER of a LIVE show.

As far as the weird connection between music and film? It's like peanut butter and 100% chocolate... white french truffle oil  drizzled on double-cooked french fries (no duck fat)... I think it all goes back to an early Freudian mirror stage where you start creating your own "music videos" starring... you! Film taps into  this buried sub-conscious "idealized imagery"... and it is the ultimate "feel-good" drug.  Hence the popularity of the music video format! And  the atavistic appeal of the music/film dialectic.

And speaking of rock and rockers,  my rock band -- Low On High -- with my wife Amy Davis (also muse, star of the movies and co-conspirator here at Apathy Productions) has a new CD out. It's scuzzy, drippy, punkoid rock-n-roll... we've gigged out with Deerhoof, The Gossip plus lots of others and are recording a new album .

TV STORE ONLINE:  What are your Top Ten desert island albums of all time?

JON MORITSUGU:  1.  LOW ON HIGH - S/T - our debut album. This is really all I would need. But here are some others.  2. anything by my father-in-law MEL DAVIS, who was hands down the BEST jazz trumpeter ever (check out lead trumpet on BILLIE HOLIDAY lady in satin, BENNY GOODMAN, the HUSTLE + anything by THE VILLAGE STOMPERS). Yeah, I dig this!!!  3. ROLLING STONES - Emotional Rescue. 4. BEETHOVEN piano sonatas (Claudio Arrau on the keys).  5.  BRIAN ENO -Here Come The Warm Jets. 6. GARY NUMAN + TUBEWAY ARMY - Replicas. 7. JOY DIVISION - A Darkness In My Soul (Italian bootleg of EARLY punkoid stuff). 8. THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN - Psychocandy. 9. COUNT BASIE WITH THE MILLS BROTHERS - Sixteen Great Performances. Then, 10. NICO - Chelsea Girl.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You seem to find art in words, phrases, sentences, and text fonts. How did that come about for you?

JON MORITSUGU:  I dunno, I actually think it's my love of the TV commercial (esp. the primetime/pre-internet heyday) from kid years that informed this  personal aesthetic, right? Growin' up in Hawaii in the 70's (when TV was delayed ONE WEEK!),  yeah, the most compelling shit was the commercials. There's something about someone paying tons of money to show it all in thirty seconds, and try to get you to do something... you KNOW you're gonna get great rhymin', wordin'. performin', grafix, THE WORKS! Or it might also completely suck in that misguided-money way. The possibilities and potential are infinite.

TV STORE ONLINE:  One of my very favorite aspects of your work, are your film's title sequences. How important to you is the creation of the title sequences in conjunction with the finished film?

JON MORITSUGU:  Oh man, title sequences are TOTALLY CRUCIAL!  They're like the wrapper on the candy bar! The paint-job on the car. So many movies lose momentum with WEAK title sequences that look like they were put together in ten minutes on an Atari RS1 (wait, that actually looks cool) ... Yeah, I am a title whore. I personally think movies should have two or three title sequences, lots of theme music and flesh.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Most of the characters in your films, seem to have a real knack for fashion.  Is that something that's important in your own life?

JON MORITSUGU:  Fashion is monthly, fashion is fascist, fashion is sad. Style if illusive and cannot be taught or bought. You either get it or you follow it, and so yes, the answer is affirmative. Style is very important  to me.. and uh, oh yeah, I married the best stylist bar none.

TV STORE ONLINE: You've done the bulk of your work in 16mm, why the decision to transition into video for Scumrock?

JON MORITSUGU: That was actually out of necessity. We initially had 35mm aspirations but alas, when funding fell through we decided to go punk rock  and shoot the whole thing for 5 grand on analog hi8 ($300 consumer camera purchased by mom-in-law + five month shoot with kooky and cool half vegan cast and crew). Doing it on film would have cost so much more and we just had to move and go for it in whatever way possible.

At this point, I have ABSOLUTELY NO attachment to the the film medium. Video rocks. Digital rocks. Analog rocks. I think every project is  different and can be completed in a multitude of ways. Getting stuck on format is like Pepsi vs. Coke.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you stay current on the amazing films that have been coming out of Asia over the last ten years, in particular some of the horror and  exploitation films?

JON MORITSUGU:  Definitely!!! The yellow brothers and sisters are rockin' the scene, right?!  There's obviously been a history/tradition of visceral Asian film expression through the years and I'm glad it's replaced all that model minority jazz. Come on, face it, we eat rice and vegetables with a pair of sticks but we also are dangerous. KILL YOU ROUND EYE!

TV STORE ONLINE:  As a strong visual artist, for you, does the visual aspect play more of an important role than anything else in the film?

JON MORITSUGU:   Those visuals are important, I'm also really into the writing and more conceptual aspects. But ultimately, it's how it all comes together. As wacko as it sounds, it really is about the COMPLETED movie. Writing, cinematography, acting, mise-en-scene....  you've got to find a balance.

TV STORE ONLINE: With a lack of budget, do you feel that your strong visual style hides that problem in the finished product?  How much does it help?

JON MORITSUGU:   Oh yeah, there actually is a lot you can do to hide the lack of coin.  Lighting as well as the D.P are so important... though I feel it all comes together in the editing room, where you can arrange a bunch of mediocre footage and walk away with a GREAT movie... or reduce a bunch of great stuff to nothing. Editor is god, by the way.

Great actor performances also go really far in terms of stretching budget.  Music is the other half of the movie. And with a "ROCKING/ENGAGING/DELIVERING-THE-GOODS" soundtrack, you could actually  show footage of plants growing in real time and still have an amazing scene.

There's a lot you can do to compensate for lack of budget and I think anyone complaining about not having enough money should uh... re-access their priorities and then shut up.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How important do you think the internet is for today's up and coming indie or experimental filmmakers?  Do you have any plans to maximize the medium to create more work?

JON MORITSUGU:  I LOVE THE INTERNET....you can pull a Marx/Walter Benjamin move and create products and sell 'em all over the world. you can connect with cool people, talent, bands, etc. and it exposes lots of new talent, it's not just in the good-old U.S.A.

I HATE THE INTERNET... too many bit torrents even though it promotes the work. Then the porn... so sad  and speaking of the internet, check me out at www.jonmoritsugu.com.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Of all your films which film(s) are you most proud of, and why?

JON MORITSUGU:  I actually love 'em all... they're almost like my babies, thirteen weird and different babies... OK, I really think Mod Fuck Explosion came together the best out of everything as far as being a "film."  Yeah, it's a little out-there at times and what not, but I'm really proud of the way it turned out and how "complete" it is... great acting, cinematography, sound design, mise-en-scene... and it really captures an awesome time in my life, when I was falling in love with my wife, Amy.

TV STORE ONLINE: What's your favorite film that you've seen in the last couple years, and why?

JON MORITSUGU:  Okay, lots of good movies through the years but here are two new ones I just checked out and love: 1) Why Are You Weird? by Tucker Bennett and Zach Shipko. Feature movie shot on VHS for 25 bucks that soulfully captures that romeo/artschool/indie vibe. Superlative editing and total honesty. Key line: "Does that bike come with a tampon?" 2) Pixie Witch Troll Hours.  Princess Diana episode with Carol Anne + Keturah. This is like a talk show/hang-out with two superstars + awesome  video graphics plus you do not wanna be interviewed by 'em!  Both DVD''s created by kunst revolutionaries in sour-dough,  cable-car-luvin' Frisco. Cannot wait to see more work and how these visionaries fuck shit up in a beautiful way.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung